Designing solutions to alleviate homelessness

Homelessness is a serious social issue, and overcoming the problem appears to be an almost elusive task. In Australia, it is estimated that on any given night approximately 105,000 people will be homeless, in 2016, the United Kingdom recorded 250,000 homeless people and in America, the most recent reports found that on one night there were close to 540,000 homeless people.

The issue of homelessness is complex and entails multiple factors, including psychological, social, financial and environmental. Given these complexities, the issue requires collaborative, creative and sustainable approaches. Here’s just a few examples of what governments, charities and entrepreneurs are doing around the world to design solutions that help people experiencing homelessness.

Recent reports show that in America, on any one night, there are close to 540,000 people homeless

The city of Adelaide is embarking on a plan to end homelessness and plans to become the first city outside North America to implement an approach that has seen seven communities achieve Functional Zero homelessness for veterans, and three communities for chronically homeless people. The Adelaide Zero Project is modelled on an approach being implemented across a network of 75 US communities, which involves coordinating efforts to improve service systems to match the need for housing with supply.

In Detroit, the Empowerment Plan – a nonprofit that aims to lift people out of poverty and homelessness through employment – designed the EMPWR coat, an innovative coat that doubles as a sleeping bag and an over-the-shoulder bag for homeless populations. The innovative coat is a durable, water-resistant jacket made of Cordura fabric from workwear company Carhartt, upcycled automotive insulation from General Motors, and materials from other donors. The coat, which costs sponsors $US100, is distributed to those in need across 40 states in the United States, seven Canadian provinces and a number of other countries around the world.


Crisis – the UK national charity for single homeless people, which offers year-round education, employment, housing and wellbeing services from centres in London, Newcastle, Oxford, Edinburgh and Merseyside – is running The End Migrant Homelessness Challenge. Crisis are seeking collaboration with as many people as possible to create a plan to end homelessness in Great Britain. The online community was conceived to build on and accelerate the pace of innovation by collaborating across and beyond the homeless sector.

Crisis are seeking collaboration with as many people as possible to create a plan to end homelessness in Great Britain

Orange Sky Laundry – set up by Australian duo Nic Marchesi and Lucas Patchett – is the world’s first free mobile laundry service for the homeless. It started on the streets of Brisbane and since grown to 14 services across Australia. Orange Sky Laundry does over 5.8 tonnes of laundry every week. Also in Australia, One Voice provides a mobile shower service, offering homeless persons a safe place to shower, shave, brush their teeth and restore their dignity.

In Amsterdam, media company N=5 created a new, high-tech way to give money to people experiencing homelessness, enabled through wireless payments via a jacket pocket. The Helping Heart jacket is a prototype that takes contactless donations by waving a smart credit card over the pocket to help someone in need. Donations have a one euro limit, and the money is then redeemed through an official homeless shelter going towards food, accommodation or things like vocational training courses and even savings accounts. Trials within the homeless community have received positive feedback and advocacy organisations support how the jacket helps people toward long-term goals. N=5 are hoping to to produce the Helping Heart jacket at scale in an affordable and compact way.


GiveSafe – an organization based in Seattle, Washington – distributes quarter-sized “beacons” to homeless people through shelters in. People with the GiveSafe app will receive a notification when they pass someone holding a beacon, providing more information about the person and an opportunity to donate money. People experiencing homelessness can use the donations at select stores or through a nonprofit counselor on things like clothing, transportation, haircuts and more. Their aim is to remove the friction and barriers to giving money to people in need. GiveSafe is currently running as a pilot and the app is available on iPhone and Android.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *